Casual comments

Column by Nan Russell
Columns, letters:

“Nana, when I get older, I want blue eyes,” my nearly 3-year-old granddaughter remarked, prompting a discussion about eye color followed by praise for her dark brown eyes. Still she persisted in her wishful thinking, telling to her grandfather, mother, and father that she was going to be getting blue eyes soon.

It was nearing the end of a weekend visit when I realized why. Her newborn sister appears to have blue eyes and a casual comment by her mother about how nice it would be if they stayed blue like her father’s, triggered my granddaughter’s determination to achieve the same eye-standing as her tiny sister.

Ah, yes, the power of a casual comment. Like the one I overhead as a second-grader shopping for school clothes with my mom. While changing in the dressing room I heard the clerk comment to her, “You’ll have better luck with this style since your daughter is a bit chunky.”

“Chunky!?” It was the first time I’d heard that word in relationship to me. It became a catalyst for thoughts of myself as “less than” and “lacking” and anything but “just right.” That simple comment seeped into my self-esteem, finding a lasting place in my self-image.

Of course it wasn’t the only accidental remark I’ve incorporated into self-perception-DNA. Some casual remarks have inspired me, others deflated dreams; some stung my heart while others nourished my soul; some diminished confidence, others enriched it.

But it’s curious that instead of feeling grateful for the comments that lifted my spirits, I’ve often dwelled on those that pierced them. One negative comment in hundreds of complimentary ones can plague me for hours. If allowed to take root, an off handed remark can sprout detrimental thoughts.

Still I’ve become a good remark-weeder after decades of practice. I know which to consider and which to throw out. Most times I recognize alien seeds of possible discontent for what they are and refrain from adding internal fertilizer to chance remarks. But I don’t want my granddaughter to take decades to learn that skill.

In the scheme of things, I can’t control all the words that might impact her world. Neither can her mother or father or grandfather or aunts or uncles or teachers. But we can all help her and others see themselves with eyes of gratitude instead of eyes of envy. When we help someone “see” their uniqueness we make a better world together. In this time of Thanksgiving, may we pause to give thanks for our gifts and the gifts of others.


Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008), and host of “Work Matters with Nan Russell” weekly on, Nan Russell has spent over 20 years in management, most recently with QVC as a vice president. Sign up to receive Nan’s “Winning at Working” tips and insights at

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